- Mohammed Mattar was due to stand trial two weeks ago - but case collapsed
- Home Office blunders forced judge to order the charges to be dropped
- Emerged days after collapse of Britain's biggest sham case against a vicar
- Prosecutors accuse Home Office of not completing vital investigation
- Court application to extend time limit was refused so they had 'no choice'
- Mattar's wife said today he did nothing illegal - and wasn't even an imam
- Opposition calling on Theresa May to ensure fiasco does not happen again
- Follows publication of damning report by MPs about asylum backlogs
An imam accused of conducting nearly 600 sham marriages between Muslim men and European brides has walked free from court in the second case to have been catastrophically bungled by Home Office officials in a week.
A judge ordered charges against Mohammed Mattar to be dropped after paperwork blunders meant that the case was not ready on time.
Details of the fiasco emerged yesterday, only days after ministers were left red-faced over the collapse of Britain’s biggest sham marriage case against a vicar amid allegations of serious misconduct by border officials.
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Dropped: A trial of an imam accused of conducting almost 600 sham marriages has collapsed. Mohammed Mattar - pictured left at an earlier court hearing and right at his home - had denied the charge
The collapse of two such high-profile cases in a short period of time raised new questions about the management of Britain’s immigration system.
And it will revive calls for ministers to spend more on managing the nation’s borders.
It follows the publication yesterday of a damning report by a group of MPs about growing asylum backlogs, ‘lost’ illegal immigrants and the write-off of some £1billion of taxpayers’ money on failed IT projects.
A series of damaging revelations prompted the leaders of both major parties to each demand the other apologise for their handling of the immigration system.
At Prime Minister’s Questions Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of making the system worse, while the PM hit back over the ‘shambles’ he inherited from Labour.
The latest case involved Mr Mattar, 63, of the Dar Al Dawa Islamic Centre in Westbourne Grove, West London.
Charges were also dropped against Reverend Nathan Ntege, 54, accused of overseeing a ‘matrimonial conveyor belt’ of European brides
He was accused of marrying Muslim men to women with EU passports so they could remain in the UK.
The imam was said to have conducted a staggering 580 sham ceremonies between 2008 and 2012.
He was also charged with concealing criminal property between the same dates via money transfers to the value of £1,887,262, contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act. This charge was dropped in April.
Yesterday, his Malaysian wife Azizah Abdul Hamad, 57, revealed how police had searched their home two years ago, but denied her husband carried out the marriages or was an imam.
The couple, who married in the UK in 1991, have six children.
A massive investigation was launched this year, taking months to carry out and costing tens of thousands of pounds.
But the Home Office failed to hand over its paperwork in time. As a result the Crown Prosecution Service missed legal deadlines to hand over prosecution material to Mr Mattar’s lawyers in time for the trial – which was due to begin at Isleworth Crown Court on October 13.
It applied for an extension at a pre-trial hearing on September 18, but when the court refused, the CPS said it had ‘no choice’ but to offer no evidence.
Bookshop: The imam helped run the former Dar Al Dawa Islamic centre in Bayswater, London (above)
Bungle: A trial was due to start two weeks ago at Isleworth Crown Court, but it will no longer take place
Yesterday prosecutors made clear Home Office blunders were to blame. A CPS spokesman said: ‘In early 2014 we identified a large amount of potentially relevant material and we advised the Home Office investigation team to obtain and look into the material for the purpose of disclosure.
Labour's immigration spokesman has called on Theresa May to make clear what steps she intends to take so the fiasco does not happen again
‘In August it became apparent that this work had not been completed and therefore we would not be able to fully discharge disclosure obligations in the case before the trial.
We therefore applied for an adjournment. This was refused by the court and we had no option but to offer no evidence.’
A Home Office spokesman said there were ‘lessons to be learned’ to prevent something similar happening again.
He added: ‘The decision not to take this matter to trial is disappointing, particularly after such a long investigation.’
It follows the collapse of the £1million trial of a vicar suspected of running Britain’s biggest sham marriage racket, due to ‘serious misconduct’ by Border Agency staff.
Last week charges were dropped against Reverend Nathan Ntege, 54, who was accused of overseeing a ‘matrimonial conveyor belt’ of Eastern European brides.
The Uganda-born clergyman walked free after Judge Nic Madge accused two Border Agency officials of perjury and perverting the course of justice.
They have both been suspended and may face criminal charges themselves.
Yesterday’s Public Accounts Committee report found the backlog of applications for asylum had grown by 70 per cent in a year, despite reforms designed to end the now-defunct Border Agency’s appalling record of failure.
At PMQs, Mr Miliband said: ‘Can you explain why the number of asylum applicants awaiting a decision has risen by 70 per cent in the last year?’
Mr Cameron said: ‘Let me just say this: we inherited from Labour a complete and utter shambles – a department that wasn’t fit for purpose, computer programmes that wouldn’t work and an immigration system that was a complete mess.’